October 1, 2010
The Western Cape is one of the world’s great centres of viniculture, but it has a lot more to offer than just grapes…
“More than 200 vineyards lie among the green rolling hills of the Western Cape, backed by jagged mountains and punctuated with perfectly preserved, whitewashed houses. To add to the appeal, the region has the country’s greatest concentration of fine dining restaurants, boutique hotels and exquisite guesthouses.
The Western Cape’s wine region starts in Cape Town itself, stretching east to Robertson and north to Tulbagh with a few rogue vineyards thriving outside these boundaries. The pioneering towns of Stellenbosch, Franschhoek and Paarl remain the holy trinity of Cape wine production.
Some vineyards run tutored tastings where you’re challenged to announce the aromas and flavours you’ve spotted; others offer free samples that inevitably make you feel obliged to buy. More relaxing are the wineries that allow you to sip at your leisure for a nominal fee.
Few wineries offer such a pretty place to taste as Franschhoek’s Boschendal estate. Collect your samples and sit under the giant oak tree trying to match the flavours in your glass to those on the card you’ve been issued. Further north in Paarl, Fairview is an understandably popular place with a wine bar feel, where unobtrusive staff will tell you as little or as much as you’d like to know about each of their vintages.
If you like to nibble while you taste, try Stellenbosch’s Bilton winery or Stellenbosch Hills. The former offers pairings of chocolate and wine while the latter is the only vineyard to pair their wares with biltong (dried beef or game meat with peppery seasoning). A little further off the beaten path is Viljoensdrift, just outside Robertson. Buy a bottle of your favourite wine, buy picnic ingredients from their deli and then enjoy an hour-long cruise down the Breede River.
The whole winelands region is an aesthetic treat, but to get the best of the area stick to driving on the smaller roads. Starting out from Stellenbosch, the winding road to Franschhoek is a particular delight. From Franschhoek, head east along the R45, cutting through the Hottentots Holland Nature Reserve as you veer south towards Theewaterskloof Dam.
From the dam, you can keep skirting the reserve and head west or take the road less travelled north towards Worcester. A little further west the R310 from Somerset West showcases the other side of the Cape, hugging the ocean with marvellous views as you head back towards Cape Town.
Three nature reserves serve as a centrepiece for the Winelands. Hottentots Holland is known for bird watching, overnight hikes and kloofing (scrambling into ravines). For milder day hikes head to Jonkershoek, whereas Assegaaibosch is perfect for picnics and gentle walks.
The region is known for its upmarket sleeping options, but that’s not to say that there isn’t anything for budget conscious travellers. Families should try the Nerina Guest Farm just outside Robertson, a family-run winery offering horse riding and laidback boat trips along the Breede River.
If chic decor without an exorbitant price tag is more your thing, try the Allegria Guest House, six miles west of Stellenbosch. Their sunny rooms overlook a large pool with wonderful mountain and vineyard views and the owners donate part of their profits to local outreach programmes.
For the ultimate in opulence, check into LQF’s Four Quarters. The expansive suites come with DVD players, a free bar, private pool shared between the four suites and a personal butler to cater to your every whim. Even LQF’s standard rooms are divine, with individual decor and splendid mountain views.
The main wine region is an easy hour-long drive east of Cape Town and best reached by car. Once in the Winelands, consider leaving your wheels behind and joining a tour. Most hotels will be able to organise a private tour, but if you want to save a little cash then join one of the Easy Rider group outings. They visit four vineyards and take in a cellar tour, and the price includes lunch. If organised tours aren’t your thing, each town’s tourist information office can provide maps of their region and details on hiking or biking between the wineries.”
Header image of Stellenbosch by Michiel Van Balen on Flickr.
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